I was eagerly looking forward to Black Forest Trip. Having recently returned from India and after a long break from proper backpacking, I needed to get back in shape and I was confident BFT would be a great way to achieve that.
After meeting at Grosvenor, Mike Korin, Kylie and I got in Peter's car on the evening of Halloween and drove to Hotel Manor near Slate Run. Along the way, Mike offered us glow sticks to appear colorful. I am sure when John met us he must have been surprised. He joined in and adorned himself with the neon glows too.
We started from Slate Run around 9:30 PM and crossed the bridge over Slate Run "especially put in place for us" as somebody liked to say. Thus began our CCW loop of BFT and just a few minutes into it, we were on our first ascent. It was a gradual climb. 3.5 miles into the trip, we came upon a flat space and decided to camp for the night. It wasn't too cold - the temperatures were around 40ish degrees. The forecasts had tried to scare us by predicting rains in such temperatures, i.e. hypothermia conditions, but we lucked out and didn't get rained upon at all.
We started well on Saturday - wake-up at 6 and on the trail at 7. We felt the tiniest drops of precipitation, it was barely anything. It would keep "raining" like this for a few hours - nobody complained. In no time, we were on our first descent along Red Run which was steep and full of slippery rocks. That is how BFT is in a lot of places. Another feature which we observed, which would repeat multiple times later, was how the trail likes to dart on both sides of a stream it follows. I guess the trail wants you to gain stream crossing skills. The trail kept on being flat for some time and when we were crossing a bridge on Francis Rd, Kylie saw some movement in the wide stream below. We tried to follow the movement and realized she saw two Otters. They were shy and quickly darted under some rocks when they saw us. This was new - everyone admitted not having seen Otters on a backpacking trip. The trail started climbing uphill and then remained flat for a few miles. We passed through these miles nice and easy. The sky was fully covered with clouds and there would be no sign of the Sun for pretty much the whole day. Along this long flat section, we also came upon a couple of hunters. When we came upon a trail register, John felt the other group might have left a message for us. When we opened the box, the trail register was soggy and didn't have any message for us at all from the NDA group. This was the only trail register box where we looked for messages and as we got to know later, it was the only one where the NDA group didn't leave a message. Ack, bad luck! Anyways, we continued and descended towards Dyer Branch. Just before our next climb, we took a nice lunch break. The 16ish miles we had covered seemed to have come easy. The next climb was steep and full of big rocks towards the end. We reached the Western ridge section of the trail and continued on the flat terrain bound southwards. We were obviously hiking post peak fall period, but were still lucky enough to catch some fall colors. Time was flying by easy, we never stopped for a long break. After crossing 44, we came upon a nice section full of tall evergreen trees. It was pleasant. Before our final descent on Callahan Run, we came upon a message from the NDA group - "Hello DCUL". Everyone was pleased to hear from the other group. Callahan Run was steep and everyone was happy at the end of the descent - it was the end of good 24 miler day. We had reached campsite just before 5 - good time. At the campsite, we saw the message from the other group - "Go Team Dumbass". We all started gathering firewood - Peter bringing in a big load which we wouldn't even be able to burn through. Mike setup a great fire and soon we started chatting. Mike shared some motivational stories he had been listening to in the form of an audio tape. John and Mike shared Fireball and Tequila - it was a merry campsite. Tired from the long day, we started heading to our shelters around 8 PM.
John gave the wake up call at 6 - old Time (New Time 5 AM as DST ended) and we were on the trail at 7 AM. I was confident we would catch-up with the group ahead of us. Immediately after starting, it began snowing upon us - but like before it was very small sized precipitation. The trail climbed gradually and brought us on a ridge. By this time it had stopped snowing - still it was very cold on the ridge because of the speedy winds. We continued on this ridge enjoying open vistas along our way. A steep descent brought us to Naval Run - where the previous group had camped. A few fall colors were visible in this section too. Then we faced our steepest climb. We were rewarded at the top with fine views of Pine Creek. This ascent brought us to an old road. We finally got a glimpse of how the sun looked like - it was great to see the sunshine. Somewhere ahead the trail dropped a little - I remember Mike and I crossing on a large log of wood, about 30 ft. in length, here - that was fantastic. It was here that we failed to find any sign for Virgin Hemlocks which I was eager to see after hearing John talk about it. Another steep descent and we were alongside Little Slate Run. We met a small group of backpackers (with really heavy packs) and got to know that the NDA group wasn't far ahead. It was funny how they described Will - the fellow with the camera thing on his pack. Haha. Once at the bottom, we refilled water. We then tackled a steady climb which ended with a muddy section - I noticed how Peter's backpack blended very well with his clothing. And with his easy walking gait - even at 3.5 mph speeds, it appeared as if he had no backpack at all. Strong guy he is. A short dip into a valley and we were on our last climb. At the top of the climb, we came upon a nice pond with a bench nearby to enjoy it. The place was amazing. One could take a dip here in the summer - the water was very clear. And then we were on our last descent - it was probably the steepest one. I liked it because you were descending straight down the ridge - no switchbacks. There was no tree cover - so we had a great view of the surroundings. According to John, this was where one can find a lot of Rattlesnakes. We reached the bottom and were hiking alongside Slate Run. After a recent reroute, the trail put us on Slate run road. Kylie saw Hua and others getting into Will's car. We were joyous to see that they - Will, Mike VW, Hua and Liza - were right there and had just finished. It was a happy gathering and soon we were driving to Williamsport. Not finding any spots at Bullfrog - Mike VW found a place called Brickyard. It turned out to be pretty good. Stomachs full of good food and beer, it was time to say goodbye. It felt great to catch-up with the other group and hear their stories.
Hua's description of BFT seemed very apt to me and John - 99% flat with 6 tough 1k ft. climbs. It is not an easy trail. I would also say that the trail was very beautiful and offered a lot of variety both in terms of terrain - steep & gradual climbs and descents, muddy, rocky and flat terrain and beauty - open vistas, mini waterfalls, wildlife - otters and deer. I had a blast! Feels good to be back.
Great report, Karan! We are glad you're back, too!
Great trip report, B.A. - you now have the "toughest backpacking trip in PA" to add to your accomplishments. It was a fun weekend especially with the cooperative weather!
After the ADK trip this summer, the BFT was not as difficult as I remembered.
O_O - I agree this was not even close to how tough our ADK trip was!
Thanks Karan for the trip report. I agree with you guys. Even BFT named "The hardest trail in the PA, it is relatively FLAT in comparison to ADK [:D]
Glad to hear the Dumbass side of the story. Glad you had a good trip. I'll have to get out to do this loop again myself; it seems the heat of my June trip last year mangled the details of the trail in my head, though it did make the swim in Slate Run that much more enjoyable. I didn't see any otters though! Jealous!